It can be argued that the vanguard of development has always been reflected in the arts of a culture. It is the poets, the dreamers and artists who are the architects of the future; the ones who build the world they want to live in, the ones who dream out loud1. Music is an elaborate art form, tempered by the emotions of those who create it and as such the dreams, creations and inventions are partly the products – or at least artifacts – of the world around them. As such, the social, economic and technological changes in society reflect themselves in the arts of the time also.
The common question “Does art imitate life, or does ife imitate art? ” when inspected proves rhetorical: they are parallel mirrors which reflect each other. W. H. Auden best expressed this when he said, “A verbal art like poetry is reflective; it stops to think. Music is immediate, it goes on to become. ” Tracing the course of musical development through history shows how closely music (of all the art forms) in particular represents the time in which it was written. The “immediacy” Auden speaks of is evidenced in musics ability to associate itself with a specific point in time or event and always remind the listener of that time or place.
It is impossible to analyse individual interpretation of music, however it is interesting to examine what caused musicians to write what they did, when they did. The personal interpretation or association of a work is superimposed; it is the music “going on to become. ” By correlating musical developments with historical events or conditions, we can see not only why certain styles of music were written when they were, but also how the times dictated the styles as much as the styles dictated the times. The exact origin of music is unknown.
We can only form educated guesses from the evidence that remains today: ictures on fragments on broken vases of musical instruments, or cave paintings of dancing figures. It is generally accepted that music was first used in prehistoric times in spiritual or magical rituals. This knowledge comes from the fact that music still forms a vital part of most religious ceremonies today. Whereas with ancient pictures, we can imagine missing pieces, or envision brighter colours, when it comes to music we have no idea of what instruments were used, or the sounds they made.
Our relationship with the music of the time is as intangible to us as if we had only smelled the dyes of the paintings we see. Greek music is just about the first artifact, chronologically speaking, of record which can begin to make sense to us. Although there is evidence that music and music performance played a large part in Greek culture in the manuscripts discovered from their civilisation, there are very few actual artifacts of the music itself, either vocal or instrumental that have survived.
It is impossible to fully understand what little notation that has been discovered to properly reproduce an accurate performance or even imagine what it could sound like. Greek civilisation was heavily reliant on mythology. According to Greek mythology, music was considered divine; a creation of the gods. It was believed that the gods themselves invented music and musical instruments. Music and religion (mythology) played an integral part in both the public and private lives of the Greeks. Many early myths were those which explained the powerful forces of music.
The Greek were perhaps the first to iterate musics powerful effect on human emotions. In Greek history, music was a much debated topic. Philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle both had very different views on the power and importance it had. Pythagoras developed the numerical ctave system still used to represent music today. This was critical in helping us to understand today what we find in artifacts of the past. Entertainment in Greece was highly regarded and prioritised, as it represented wealth and status.
The Greeks developed most of their music in theatre and by the time Greece became a province of the Roman Empire, music dominated most dramatic performances as well as social activities. We have far better evidence and examples of the music played in the society of the Roman Empire. Most of the music created in the Roman Empire originated in the music of the Greeks. Despite this, there was definite musical activity in the later Roman Empire. An ample amount of evidence survived for instruments and a good deal of theory also.
But by and large, Greek music remained the most popular in society in the Roman Empire. It developed as early Christian music developed from Jewish traditions. The custom of singing sacred verses at services is one example of such transferring of traditions. As the Church grew larger, the music fell more and more into the care of professionals and it became greatly complex. Soon the church officials became fearful that the music as overpowering the worship and music had to be regulated in worship services.
Most of the music of this time was being written for religious purposes (worship, praise, etc. ) and was strictly controlled by church officials. Much like the Greek, music was treated as a religious artifact, however in a much more regulated sense. This centralisation of control was fundamental to the Roman Empire, and deviation from it was perceived as a threat to the Empire. Music, being sacred, was put into the care of priests, in much the same way religion was seen to be something that could be administered.
By the sixth century, plainchant had increased so greatly that Pope Gregory I had it collected and organized, and it came to be known as Gregorian Chant. The chant did not have a regular rhythm but was fitted to the natural accents of the Latin words. Like all previous music, each chant consisted of a single monophonic (single voiced) melody, where all the singers sang the same notes. A move in religion from centralised worship to individual worship was reflected in the music of the time as well.
Music developed independent styles or variations which changed significantly from the prescribed music of the Church. One cannot conclude that the de-centralisation of Religion was brought about due to Christianity seeking to monopolise music, making individual musical expression akin to heresy and that this form of control was impossible to maintain, however it is hard to ignore the impact displacing the centralisation of music had on the Holy Roman Empires control of its territory.
In Venice, where ships and travelers on their way to and from the Middle East congregated, a city considered to be at the edge of the civilised world, the music received from the Church of Rome, written by composers such as Palestrina, was being changed nd interpreted in new ways by an intersection of cultures. In Piazza San Marco experiments with such forbidden concepts as polyphony and harmonies were being conducted, much to popular approval. The music of the place reflected the cosmopolitan influences of the city.
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, traveling entertainers, known as troubadours performed music and sand songs of chivalry and adventures (rescuing damsels in distress from dragons, and so on) and helped spread nonreligious (secular) music. In France these entertainers were either vagrant musicians who performed their songs and oetry in order to make a living, or young aristocrats who performed and sang for their own enjoyment. The content of these songs often portrayed a hero and celebrated his strength or wisdom in battle or on a quest.
Many manuscripts of this music have been successfully recovered. One of the primary landmarks in the evolution of the plainchant and music as a whole was the advent of polyphony. Polyphony is the singing (or playing) of two separate melodies at the same time while still maintaining a pleasing sound. Polyphony was first used in France, with the first in very basic notation. Soon, polyphony as developed into elaborate forms in two main centres: Paris and St. Martial de Limoges. By this time, better methods of musical notion existed and so the manuscripts that remain are more familiar to modern understanding.
The first experiments in polyphony were called organum. In these, a second voice (or voices) followed the chant melody at an interval of a fourth or fifth above the original. Sometimes the two lines moved in opposite directions. Later, a more elaborate part was added above the tenor. As the two parts become more independent, often two distinct melodies ran at the same time. When the third and fourth parts ere added, the music became truly polyphonic. Along with the building of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris grew a school of composers, two of the most prominent of whom were Leonin and Perotin.
They stretched the organum to previously unheard-of lengths and embellished it with flourishes of long melismas (the name given to many notes sung for one syllable). New rhythmic patterns developed, as did the use of repetition of motifs, sequential patterns, and imitation. Out of this came the motet, originally in Latin on a sacred text. Unlike the organum, the text was sung in the higher voices as well as the tenor. Bilingual motets (French/Latin, English/Latin, etc. ) arose, and secular texts or combinations of sacred and secular texts were used. Tenors were sometimes chosen from French popular songs instead of from plainchant.
Instruments played lower parts, making the motet an accompanied solo song. One of the best examples of the music of this period are the works of Guillaume de Machaut. He wrote over 100 secular songs, 23 motets, and one mass. His works are characterized by colorful melodic and harmonic patterns over varying rhythms. The later fourteenth century was a period during which the French style dominated musical style throughout Europe. It was modified to reflect local tastes in Italy and England, but the French roots of the inspiration remained prominent for many years.
However, Italian composers continued to develop a more personal style, combining French Ars Nova concepts with Italian styles. In Germany in what came to be known as the Baroque Period, Johann Sebastian Bach was working as a musical director at St. Thomass Choir School in Leipzig where, apart from his brief visit to the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1747, he remained there until his death. Bach was considered a master of contrapuntal technique, nd his music characterises the Baroque polyphonic style. His volume of work includes over 200 church cantatas, six concertos, four orchestral suites and many other major compositions.
His keyboard music for clavier and for organ is of great importance and includes the collection of 48 preludes and fugues known as The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Goldberg Variations, and the French and English Suites. These were subsequently considered the fundamental necessary “lessons” for playing the clavier and later, the pianoforte. Of his organ music, the most significant examples are his choral preludes. He also wrote chamber music and songs. Two important works written in his later years illustrate the principles and potential of his polyphonic technique: The Musical Offering and The Art of Fugue.
After the French Revolution, a bloody affair lasting three years from 1789 to 1792, one of the most prominent composers was Beethoven. It was at this time he that was writing such pieces as the Eroica Symphony (1803) and the Waldstein Sonata (1804). By 1804, Napoleon had just returned from Egypt and been crowned Emperor of the French. This prevalent militarism and theme of conquest can be heard in much f Beethovens work, and in fact the Eroica Symphony was originally dedicated to Napoleon. In 1813, Napoleon was defeated by Prussia and Austria in the Battle of Nations at Leipzig.
A year later, Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to the island of Elba. During this same time, in Italy the composer Rossini wrote Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) and in Germany, Weber wrote Der Freischütz. A reaction to the strict logic of the Classicists, Romanticism began in the early 19th century and radically changed the way people looked at the world around them. Unlike Classicism, hich was based on order and established guidelines for the creation of architecture, literature, painting and music, Romanticism was a more emotionally and sentimentally driven movement.
This had a great influence on political doctrines and ideology. The Romantic era appreciated human diversity and considered looking at life from a new perspective. It was the combination of modern science and classicism that gave birth to Romanticism and introduced a new outlook on life that embraced emotion before rationality. Romanticism was a reactionary period of history which, though its emphasis on emotions and on the expressions f feelings, provided a vast quantity of poetry, artwork and literature.
The Romantics turned to art before the science to explain or express the world around them. They found that the orderly, mechanistic universe that science thrived under was too narrow-minded, systematic and dogmatic in terms of dictating feeling or emotional thought. It was men such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Germany who wrote “The Sorrows of Young Werther” which epitomized what Romanticism stood for. His character expressed feelings from the heart and gave way to a new trend of expressing emotions through ndividuality as opposed to what other people believed.
In England, there was a resurgence into Shakespearean drama since many Romantics believed that Shakespeare had not been fully appreciated during the 18th century. His style of drama and expression had been downplayed and ignored by the previously narrow classical view of drama. The perception that Classicism was destroying the natural human traits and emotions in favour of rigidity and conformity was widespread across Europe. Works of the time indicates that poetry, music and literature was also used as a form of rebellion or distaste or political institutions or social conditions during the 19th century.
However, since most artists thrived on the emotional and irrational abstract that they were writing about, there was no specific category that this mode of thinking could fall into. This was a strength since the freedom to explore nature was infinite and without any restriction based on rules or laws. This invariably led to a reintroduction into religion and mysticism; people wanted to explore the unknown spiritual side of things. Music as a whole has had a gradual evolution throughout history. The tie between Mans search for the unknown, uest for Truth and longing for spiritual fulfillment and the Arts is undeniable.
Reactionary, or pro-actionary music ties us tight to places or events both in our lives and in those of others. While architecture and artifacts can give us clues to what society was like in the past (Roman ruins tell us much about life two thousand years ago), it is only the music that can communicate what our predecessors were thinking or feeling. It is the poets, the dreamers and artists of old who were the architects of their future, which allow us to glimpse our past. And it has been said, to know where one is going, you must know where you came from.